A couple months ago, a writer friend was researching an article on women’s music festivals and emailed me with some questions. She’s a married straight woman, has a very successful career, and I knew her to be insightful, intelligent, and probably more sensitive than a lot of people re the various “isms” in America (racism, sexism, etc).
I’m not much of an expert on women’s/womyn’s music festivals, having only ever attended one, so I wasn’t much help with specifics, but we talked about some general things, including why these events so important to so many lesbians. She asked “what is the need for a gay women’s festival at a time when gay women have gone so mainstream?” and cited how “accepted” Rosie, Ellen, Melissa Etheridge, and others have become.
Now as I said, this is a woman I admire and she intended no harm but what she said gave me one of those uber-queer awareness moments, you know? We’ve all had them, turned that corner and walked right into that heteronormative brick wall. Even it was constructed with the best of intentions, it’s still brick.
Which was ironic, since I had obviously internalized that “mainstream” idea to a much greater extent than I would have thought, otherwise what she said would not have impacted me the same way. It was a good reminder that we all have a lot of work to do with respect to those hetero-queer dividing lines.
Anyway, here’s part of my answer to her:
I don’t think any straight person can truly/accurately judge how “mainstream” or accepted GLBTQ people are now.
I have it pretty easy- I can be out at my job, I live in a very hippy-dippy-liberal little arty town where i don’t have to worry about looking too queer, I’m near Austin, which is groovy. Even so, there are dozens of reminders every day that I’m not like most people I am surrounded by.
Some days those are more acute than others. When my ex and I wanted to have a child? Very acute.
When my ex got cancer and had to undergo surgery, hospitalization and treatment? Very acute.
When I go visit my sister who lives in Tom DeLay’s old district east of Houston? Very acute.
When [a mutual friend who is both transgendered and lesbian] called me at 3:30 a.m. after we’d spent a night out in Austin to tell me she’d run out of gas on her way back home, and was stuck on a pitch black country highway outside of LaGrange? Very acute.
When you are “the other” and 98 percent of the people around you aren’t like you ALL THE TIME, it doesn’t much matter what Ellen or Melissa or Rosie are doing.
So yeah, being in a space like a festival, or a pride march, is a rare and exhilarating thing. One thing a lot of people mention and I’ve experienced as well, is the experience of attending a national pride march in Washington DC. Everyone drives in from their various places, then as they near DC, suddenly you see that there are more and more obviously queer/gay people passing you on the turnpike, then it’s every third car, then it’s 75 percent of the people at the rest stop, then it’s more and more and more. Then you’re in the Metro station on the way to the mall, and literally everyone you see is queer, and everyone is silly and exhilarated and high as a kite because this kind of security in numbers, experience as a majority, doesn’t happen very often.
Not trying to get all doctrinaire on you, really. It’s just that I have never once in my life felt like I was in the mainstream of much of anything. And like I said, I have it easier than most.